The Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA) was established in 2014. Its foundation grew out of extreme frustration with some of the policies vis-à-vis anti-Jewish prejudice then being pursued by what one might term the Anglo-Jewish Establishment (AJE) – pre-eminently but not only the Board of Deputies. Since then the CAA has done some sterling work in exposing home-grown antisemitism and in pursuing home-grown antisemites through the courts and in other ways. Notably, it was instrumental in forcing the Labour Party to confront its antisemitic credentials.
I have not always supported every CAA initiative. Sometimes it has seemed to me that the CAA has devoted inordinate energy in exposing antisemites whose antics were – in my view – just not worth the effort: the prosecution of Holocaust-denying songwriter Alison Chabloz in 2018 is a case in point. And my apprehension that on occasion the CAA can go ‘over the top’ has been reinforced by its recent report Antisemitism Barometer 2020.
Antisemitism Barometer 2020 reproduces and comments on the result of two surveys commissioned by the CAA and carried out last year: a YouGov survey of the British population’s attitude to Jews and a separate survey, led by the CAA, of British Jews’ responses to antisemitism. Whilst 55% of respondents in the YouGov poll appeared not to harbour any antisemitic views, 45% did so, at least to some extent. And as far as British Jews are concerned, the Labour Party is viewed as “more than twice as tolerant of antisemitism” as “any other party.”
I do not intend to comment here on the detail of the two surveys. What concerns me, rather, is the gloss that the CAA has put upon them. Here are a few extracts, taken verbatim from the publication:
“Britain’s Jews are back from the brink.”
“British Jews are showing early signs of recovery from the Corbyn era but have been left scarred.”
“Long before the rise of Mr Corbyn, Britain’s Jews were rightly concerned about surging antisemitism. Though Britain remains one of the best countries in the world in which to live as a Jew, our already-anxious community has been subjected to a harrowing ordeal by Mr Corbyn and his allies.”
I have been asking myself – and others – what “brink” Britain’s Jews are now “back from?” What ‘scars’ have been left upon us?
What I have been told is that “the brink” was the prospect of a Labour general election victory in 2019, which would have brought Jeremy Corbyn into 10 Downing Street.
A Corbyn-led Labour government would almost certainly have accorded “immediate” recognition to a Palestinian state (a manifesto commitment). Would Israel then have severed diplomatic relations with the UK? I doubt it. The recognition of a Palestinian state would have remained a symbolic but, in practical terms, meaningless gesture.
Corbyn’s Foreign Secretary (the tactless Emily Thornberry) might certainly have enjoyed striding onto the podium at the UN Security Council to support — perhaps even to propose — some blood-curdling resolution denouncing the Jewish state as a neo-colonialist plot. She would have done so safe in the knowledge that American president Donald Trump would have vetoed it.
There might well have been a Labour government-imposed embargo of arms shipments to Israel. But in view of the now very close co-operation between the UK and Israel on security-related matters, such an embargo would – in my view – have been largely symbolic. And yes, there might have been a government-mandated boycott of goods originating in Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria. But such boycotts are easily evaded.
So far as the home front is concerned, in spite of numerous scare stories, I honestly couldn’t see a Corbyn-led government, beholden to so many Muslim voters, banning shechita [religious slaughter of food animals] or brit milah [male circumcision]. Corbyn had in fact given assurances on these concerns – and, into the bargain, declared his support for Jewish faith schools – at a 9 February 2016 meeting with Jonathan Arkush, then President of the Deputies.
If Diane Abbott, appointed Shadow Home Secretary in October 2016, had found herself actually in charge of the Home Office, would she have outraged her many Charedi constituents in Hackney by closing down synagogues and moving to deprive Jews of the rights of British citizenship? Of course not.
It has also been suggested to me that Corbyn would have used the considerable patronage available to any Prime Minister to place his cronies in important and influential offices of state.
Well of course he might have. But I can think of a number of public positions currently filled by persons not known for their empathy with Anglo-Jewish matters of concern. For example, the head of Ofsted, Amanda Spielman, widely regarded as hostile to the missions of ultra-Orthodox Jewish faith schools, was appointed by a Tory minister in 2016. James Cleverly, the present Minister of State for the Middle East, is on record as supporting the infamous UN Security Council Resolution 2334 (December 2016), which declares as illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank and the Old City of Jerusalem. Mr Cleverly was appointed by none other than Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Let’s be brutally honest. What the AJE really feared was a Marxist prime minister heading a Marxist government pursuing Marxist social and economic policies.
Now I am neither a member nor a supporter of any political party. But I can say that, as a British Jew, I was certainly never gripped by any visceral anxiety in relation to a Corbyn-led Labour government. Nor were any of the fellow Jews in whose circles I am privileged to move.
But what I and these fellow Jews did deplore was the unrelenting panic-mongering undertaken by sections of the Anglo-Jewish media, aided and abetted by sundry communal bodies. These included and include – I am very sorry to say – the CAA.